'Baltic gene' discovered

  • 2001-01-18
  • Elina Cerpa
RIGA - After 10 years of research, Latvian geneticists and anthropologists together with Finnish scientists have found a unique gene that characterizes the Balts - LWb. Approximately 800 people gave donations of their blood to help prompt this unique discovery.

In the beginning of the 1980s, Finnish scientists were surprised when an unknown gene popped up in their research. At first, their research on Estonians found that the concentration of this particular gene was more pronounced than for Finns.

Continuing their research, the scientists came to the conclusion that in fact it is the Baltic peoples - the Latvians and Lithuanians - who own this special gene. The gene was given the notation LWb.

Raisa Denisova is a professor at the Institute of History and Anthropology in Latvia. She works together with the Finnish specialists.

"By testing the blood of 800 people, we came to the conclusion that Latvians have 5.9 percent of this gene concentration," says Denisova. "In Latgale, the percentage could be even higher because it is precisely there that people have retained the classic look of the ancient Balts: a large body, high forehead and large cheek bones."

Scientists discovered that the rare gene is encountered equally in those Latvians and Lithuanians who have highest gene concentration. It has therefore been called the Baltic ethnic genetic mark.

Professor Denisova says that among the many nations of Europe this particular gene concentration can only be barely traced or cannot be found at all.

Denisova's explanation is simple. "Balts have never lived together with nationalities from Western Europe. This isolation has prevented any watering down of the Baltic gene. Just 1 percent of people in Gotland have it.

"In cooperation with other scientists outside Finland and Latvia, research was carried out in Japan and Africa without any results that could prove the appearance of the Baltic gene."

According to research, Latvians and Lithuanians have intermarried intensively with Estonians over the centuries, particularly between the 4th and 8th centuries. Estonia has a 4 percent component of the Baltic gene. The gene is also found in Poland to the concentration of 2 percent.

Professor Denisova thinks that the gene could have a rather high percentage in Belarus, where a dense net of river names of Baltic origin has been discovered. The scientists have plans to explore Belarus in the near future. The meaning of the gene is mostly scientific. It will help anthropologists ascertain how nationalities evolved and how they have developed. Certainly Western Europe was not their first homeland.

According to research, the Balts lived for quite a long time around the Dniepr River basin. Originally, their homeland was the Indo-European eastern periphery, from which they moved slowly towards the north and north-west.